Meet Kim Berkley
Kim Berkley is an extraordinarily accomplished dog trainer. Few trainers can boast of putting OTCH titles on eight dogs in the last ten years. During that time, Kim has also put 20 MACH titles on ten different dogs and five PACHs on four dogs. Perhaps even more impressive is the variety of dog breeds with whom Kim has excelled. Since 2006, she’s put OTCH titles on two English Springer Spaniels, two Poodles, two Golden Retrievers, one German Shorthaired Pointer, and one Labrador Retriever.
Kim has spread the wealth with her 20 MACH titles, too, putting five on her English Springer Spaniels, five on her renowned Golden Retriever Lucy, one on her three-year-old Golden Retriever Vibrant, and two more on Emma, a client’s Golden Retriever. Kim won a MACH with her Labrador Retriever, Huntleigh, and put multiple MACHs on client dogs including an Australian Cattle Dog, Coffee; a German Shorthaired Pointer, Berlin; two Irish Setters, Sully and Chessie; and a Poodle, Glitter.
When AKC’s Preferred Agility Championship, or PACH, title debuted in 2011, Kim quickly excelled there too, earning PACHs on her English Springer Spaniel, Dani; her black Labrador Retriever, Huntleigh; and client dogs Gemma the English Springer Spaniel and Emma the Golden Retriever.
Racking up historic firsts
Kim has the distinction of having trained and shown the three youngest CH-OTCH-MACH dogs in AKC history. Her English Springer Dani – CH OTCH MACH Polesitter’s Danica Dazzles – made history on August 26, 2011, when she sailed through an agility course that made her the youngest ever CH-OTCH-MACH dog at the tender age of two years, seven months, fourteen days.
The next dog to achieve this championship trifecta was Berlin – CH OTCH MACH Olde Ridge Let Freedom Reign – a German Shorthaired Pointer owned by DSK client Melodie Godfrey. Berlin finished her triple championship at three years, two months, five days old.
Kim’s second English Springer Spaniel, AJ -- CH OTCH MACH Polesitter’s Absolute Victory – finished his CH OTCH MACH at three years, ten months, fifteen days of age.
Shining on the national stage
Not surprisingly for one who’s performed so well over so many years, Kim has carved out quite a record in national competition:
• Kim showed two dogs, Rev and Glitter, to Top 20 finishes at the 2016 AKC National Obedience Championship. Glitter (MACH Demi’s Glitter Rocks), a Poodle owned by DSK client Louise Franks, took top honors in the Non-Sporting group, while Rev (OTCH HC Rapideye All Fired Up), a Border Collie Kim co-owns with Marion Crain, was the second-highest scoring dog in the Herding group.
• Kim posted dual accomplishments at the AKC National Obedience Classic in 2015. Her young Golden Retriever Vibrant placed seventh in the Open class, while Rev finished second in the distinguished Masters class. Rev also won the parent club medallion as top-scoring Border Collie with a very impressive 199.5 points out of 200.
• Rev also won the prestigious Janet Larson Award at the Border Collie Society of America’s 2015 and 2016 National Specialties. The Janet Larson Award measures versatility; dogs compete at the National in herding plus two other sports. In April 2015, Kim and co-owner Marion Crain decided to point Rev toward this coveted honor, with the National just six months away. Rev would compete in herding, obedience, and agility, they decided. Six months may sound like plenty of time to prepare, but Rev had never done any agility, and while she had done some herding, she’d never herded ducks. As for Kim, well, she’d never even been to a herding trial! By the time September rolled around, though, Kim and Rev were primed for the challenge. Competing in herding, with Kim and Marion splitting handling duties, Rev racked up a second-place and two third-place finishes. With Kim running her in agility, Rev won six Open Preferred agility classes. She cemented the Larson award in the obedience competition, winning the Utility class and taking High Combined as well.
• The 2015 AKC National Obedience Championship was another bright spot for Kim, as she placed second in the Non-Sporting group with Gypsy – OTCH Gypsy UDX3 OM4 BN GN AX AXJ – a DSK client Poodle owned by Debra Bellm.
• Kim won the obedience competition in two breeds at the 2014 AKC National Obedience Classic. AJ took his parent club’s breed medallion by finishing as top-scoring English Springer Spaniel, while Gypsy snagged the parent club medallion for highest-scoring Poodle.
• At the 2013 AKC National Obedience Championship, AJ, who was two, finished ninth in the all-breed competition and was highest-scoring English Springer Spaniel.
• The 2011 AKC National Obedience Invitational was another impressive showing, as Kim finished with two dogs in the top 12. Her Labrador Retriever Huntleigh finished in eleventh place, edging out his sister Dani, who finished twelfth. Kim was the only person who was able to garner two high placements. Hunt and Dani each posted the highest score in their breed.
Before there were dogs, there were horses
The road to such accomplishment wasn’t always smooth. Leaving behind an enormously successful business training show horses, in the early 2000s Kim Berkley set about forming what would become Dog Sports at Kim’s. The training facility she created is gathering place and training ground for the largest group of dog trainers and handlers in the St. Louis/Metro East/Southern Illinois area.
Kim sets the standard for skilled, committed obedience and agility training. Her own continuing education is ongoing, and she encourages her students to share their training successes and support each other through the training process. There are very few egos at Dog Sports at Kim’s. Instead, there’s a treasure trove of experience that members are willing and even eager to share.
Like so many successful dog trainers, Kim started out in the world of horses. She got her first pony when she was just four. Nine years later, Kim got her first horse and stabled her nearby. Caring for Tami was her responsibility, and Kim spent every moment she could with her new friend. Each morning, she jumped on her bike and took off for the stable. From there, she rode her bike to school, then back to see Tami after school, and then, at day’s end, rode back home again.
She hired out as a babysitter to pay for Tami’s upkeep, started taking riding lessons, and soon began competing in neighborhood fun shows.
Her initial enthusiasm for horses never dimmed. Kim got her first Arabian when she was 16 and plunged into the tall task of mastering the Western and English styles of riding. With her new Arabian, Tinah, she again made the rounds of all the local fun shows, but by this time, her position in this world had begun to shift. For by now Kim had developed a considerable store of knowledge about horses, and added to her intuitive grasp of what would and wouldn’t work in training them, she was ready to become a trainer herself. Her business grew quickly, as did her own success in the show ring.
Championships, at a price
Kim’s personal goal was to win a national championship, and she made it partway there in 1984, securing a reserve national championship with her Arabian Show Hack JJ Beau Jangles. Five years later, Kim captured her first national championship with Koko Captain. Then in 1992 she won the National Champion in Costume competition with the stallion Focus Alimus.
The riders she trained – both adults and children – were also starting to win big. By 1993, horses she’d guided from ponyhood were winning national titles. Kim was proud of the horses she’d trained and very proud of her students. She found she could learn something from each horse and rider she trained. The horse from whom she learned the most, Euphemus, will always hold a special place in her heart.
This was a period of great accomplishment and great pleasure. In 1994, Kim won two national championships, in Arabian Show Hack and Side Saddle. The next year
brought more triumphs – National Champion, first level, and Reserve National Champion, second level, both in dressage.
Training horses was beginning to take a toll, though. “Horses are much more fragile than dogs,” Kim explains, and the work could be quite dangerous as well. The combination of stress, danger, and the fragility of her
A very young Kim Berkley aboard reserve national champion Beau Jangles. Both talented and versatile, Kim made her costume herself.
charges made Kim wonder how much longer she could go on.
Focus Alimus, National Champion in Costume
In the meantime, Kim had gotten her first taste of the radically different, but just as exciting, world of competitive dog sports. In the early 1990s, she got her first dog, a Great Dane, Aalaina Zar, who turned out to be a fine pet but a poor obedience prospect. Still, working with the Dane gave Kim valuable experience, and her next dog, an Australian Shepherd named Mr. Personality, did well in the obedience ring. Taking dog training lessons herself, Kim trained Mister Personality – Cody – to his UD title. She began thinking seriously about exploring this new direction.
Her successes in the horse world continued unabated. In 1992, though, Kim was forced to take a steely eyed look at her priorities when a horse fell on her, nearly killing her. Her recovery from the accident took months, but what caught her attention was her reaction in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
“I remember riding in the ambulance,” Kim says, “on the way to the hospital, and I was in terrible pain, yet all I could think about was that I was going to miss dog class that night.” A number of months later, when Kim had finally recovered, she was ready to start thinking, at least, about trading in her reins for a leash.
Getting there, slowly
The process took quite a long while, as it turned out. In fact, Kim’s last great champion horse – a mare named Vivacious Leigh — wasn’t even born until 1994. In 2003, ViVi turned the rare double trick of winning in a single year the Arabian English Show Hack national championship, with Kim in the saddle, and the youth national championship, where ViVi was ridden by a young woman Kim had trained.
By the time ViVi made her second victorious canter in 2003, Kim’s reputation as a dog trainer had gained traction and was growing. Kim made her final appearance at the Arabian horse nationals in 2006, leaving behind a generation of grateful owners and young riders. When TCE Balastrana, a horse Kim had
trained for eight years, became the Arabian Horse Association’s top champion in 2005, Bally’s owner, Mercy Burwell, touched on one of the keys to Kim’s success.
"[N]ot everyone learns the same way,” Burwell said. “Kim understands this and works with each individual's learning process. She's one of the most patient trainers I've ever encountered."
Perhaps dog and horse training were not so different after all.
Like-minded people and their dogs
About the time Bally was being coronated as top Arabian horse, Kim was putting the finishing touches on her transition from horses to dogs. She purchased the building that now houses Dog Sports at Kim’s and set about creating a place and atmosphere in which like-minded people could come together to train their dogs.
Kim spared no effort in preparing the 20,000-square-foot, climate-controlled building, the crown jewel of which is a stunning 11,200-square-foot agility building that hosts AKC agility and obedience trials and in which most DSK agility classes are held. The DSK complex also boasts a large,
separate obedience area and a third large area that serves primarily as an agility training ring. The entire complex features professional-grade equipment and three-quarter-inch rubber matting that provides
Alimus' daughter, Vivavious Leigh
cushioning for running and jumping. All rings are set up to create the real-world feel of trial conditions.
Outside the complex, there’s a huge, fenced, lighted agility ring and exercise area.
The DSK complex is a hub of dog sports in the St. Louis/Metro East/Southern Illinois area. The Mound City Obedience Training Club makes its home here, and the Greater St. Louis Agility Club holds its practices here as well.
‘You need a balance’
“You learn in training that you need a balance between reward and correction,” Kim says. Many DSK handlers find a similar balance between obedience and agility, having come to enjoy both sports.
“I think my dogs are good at agility because I first made them good obedience dogs,” Kim reflects. Other people start in agility and add obedience after they notice how much fun the obedience handlers are having, and how dogs, properly motivated, seem to warm to the sport.
‘When you’re one as a team’
“What I like best about dog training,” Kim concludes, “is the feeling you get when you and your dog are one as a team.” It’s the essence of what she teaches all her students. “I love helping people learn to be successful with their dogs, passing on what I’ve learned from the many great dog and horse trainers I’ve been lucky enough to work with.”
If you’re serious about having fun with your dog, if you want to enjoy that sense of teamwork and teach your dog to be a winner, there isn’t a better place to train than Dog Sports at Kim’s.